From the Humber to the Trent at Nottingham via Lincoln and the Grantham Canal
If someone had asked me a while ago what I thought of Lincolnshire, I would have said, ‘Flat and dull’. How wrong could I be!
We had flown over Lincolnshire in Zulu Foxtrot many times on our way north. It slowly dawned on me that I was looking down on some very pretty countryside. Nothing dramatic, just rolling farmland. Perfect for walking, I thought.
The Viking Way, launched in 1976 and the answer to my quest, stretches from the Humber to Lincoln and on to Oakham in Rutland, 147 miles in total.
My walking partner, Mike Luxmoore, and I decided to walk to Lincoln only, a five-day walk of 94 miles. I would then walk the Grantham Canal from Grantham to Nottingham, a two-day walk of 33 miles.
Day 1 Barton on Humber to Barnetby Le Wold
When opened in 1981 it had the longest span in the world and held that record for 17 years. End to end 1.4 miles long. The estuary, not a river, drains a fifth of England's water!
7.30 Tuesday morning, we walked west, with our backs to the bridge and the estuary swirling and eddying beside us as the tide came in.
We’d walked out the evening before to stand at the centre of the bridge 30 metres above the murky churning waters below, with traffic hurtling behind us. We looked west into the setting sun across the vast expanse and imagined Viking warships heading up to the Ouse and Jorvik for some plunder and spoil! We did wonder why it had been built as it seems a bridge to nowhere but now a major tourist attraction and Grade 1 listed. Quicker than the ferry.
I don’t think many people walk this first section of the Viking Way. The waymarks were inconsistent and the notes were misleading. The A15, M180 and railway line were never far and cement factories dotted the landscape.
But we were walking down the Ermine Way, not a fur fetish but a corruption of the former tribe, Earninga. That was exciting in itself, to tread the footsteps of Roman centurions. Didn’t matter that we got lost and had to add three miles to our journey to find our beds for the night.
Barnetby Le Wold had three good things – the Flute and Whistle’s haddock chowder, fresh from the Hull fishermen, the Holcombe Guest House, welcoming, comfortable, with a bath, and St Mary’s Church, locked and abandoned in 1927 for a new church in the valley below.
Strange carving of a cat above a saxon window (centre window in LH photo)
We sat on the grave of Ann Williams with the sun on our backs and guessed the date – 11th, 12th, 13th? In fact, all three, we learnt later. Such a peaceful place for tired minds and weary feet.
The railway ran through the village to Immingham Port, UK’s largest port by tonnage, with the first docks opened in 1912 by King George V. Mike was to return this way, 5 days later, by train to collect his car from Barton on Humber – a journey all of forty minutes from Lincoln!!
I listened to the trains with their closed freight cars rumble by every 20 minutes and wondered what on earth they were carrying. Our rubbish, perhaps, to be dumped at sea. I later learnt 300 freight movements a week are made carrying dry bulk, forestry, liquids, general cargo and steel!
Day 2 Barnetby Le Wold to Tealby
Today we walked into the Wolds proper and it was enchanting. Village after village, all ending in ‘….by’*, and church after church, set in the folds of the escarpment, looking west over the Vale of the Ancholme River to the Pennines in the far distance. No wonder the Wolds are designated an ANOB.
Bigby, Somerby, Searby, Grasby, Clixby, Caistor, Nettleton, Normanby Le Wold, Walesby and Tealby, all mentioned in the Domesday Book. It’s truly a land of ancient settlements, saxon mounds, lost medieval villages, ruined abbeys and disused airfields. Humps and bumps in the landscape and huge stacks of straw deposited on the airfield hard standings. This is a land of echoes, of past times long gone, vestiges left on the land to be noticed or missed.
*Viking for village or settlement
The village of Clixby - just a few houses and a church, All Hallows, with chancel only, redundant and forlorn, with dead blue tit and long-tailed tit lying by the altar. We ate our marmalade sandwiches sitting in the sun where the nave once was.
We walked past Audleby, Fonaby and Hundon, all sites of vanished medieval villages, now farmsteads. In Caistor church lies the effigy of Sir William de Hundon, a crusader knight who died in the reign of Edward 1. Opposite the church is the grammar school, founded in 1631. As the name suggests, Caistor is the site of a roman fortress or castrum and boasts a piece of roman wall - well, you could have fooled me!!
We bought our lunch in the Coop and moved on.
Sir William De Hundon, fought in the last crusade and died 1270
We walked up the Nettleton valley, watching the kites float on the wind, and reached the highest point at Normanby Le Wold, all of 550 feet. From there, we had our first sight of the towers of Lincoln Cathedral far away to the west.
Church at Normanby Le Wold with its strange gargoyle and shepherd crook corbels
'Oh my god, look I've lost my teeth'
We took a rest at Walesby church, known as the Ramblers Church. It has a stained glass window of Jesus with ramblers and cyclists! Another church to be abandoned by the village which moved off the escarpment to the valley below. This church is still occasionally used.
We reached Tealby in time for several whiskies and pints at the King’s Head waiting for our Woldview B&B hostess to come and lift us up Bully Hill. Thank God, it was very steep. They had to bully the horses to climb it. Hence its name.
Day 3 Tealby to Scamblesby
The Wolds have over 100 Lost Medieval Villages, several of which we were to pass today – West and East Wykeham, Calcethorpe, Biscathorpe, some unnamed, just humps and bumps in the land.
It also has the site of Bayons Manor just outside Tealby, home of Charles d’Eyncourt Tennyson, the uncle of Alfred, Lord Tennyson whose father was a rector in Somersby nearby and where Alfred grew up. Charles inherited all the family wealth and built, in 1830s, his romantic ‘medieval’ castle with moats and drawbridges, turrets and towers. Sadly, Bayons Manor was a victim of the destruction of the country house post WWII in the ‘50s and ‘60s, one of forty in Lincolnshire to be destroyed. Now just a heap of stones covered in trees and scrub and ‘keep out’ signs.
Described on the information board as 'an exquisite piece of tomfoolery'!
Charles also built the village hall and the school in Tealby and restored the church where Alfred’s brother was the rector before he went to Grasby. We had passed Grasby on Day 2 and admired the house where Alfred, staying with his brother, had composed some of his famous poems.
We walked over the high plateau, passing Grim’s Mound, and down into the valley of the River Bain, making Goulceby and the Three Horseshoes for lunch with minutes to spare!
Grim's mound and Mike.
Cultivated arable land makes up two-thirds of the Wolds.
I walked on to Scamblesby via Asterby Church. The Paddocks B&B, near Cadwell Park, was very comfortable with bath, telly and supplies in the fridge. What more did I need, plus a pie left over from lunch. I shared the breakfast table with a racing family and a nervous young driver and his white shiny tourer ready to race that day at Cadwell.
Asterby Church in serious need of some TLC!
My night-time reading had been a book on Scamblesby as it had looked before WWII. As I walked through in the morning I could see none of that. All the old houses, known as hovels with outside loos, had been swept away for ‘60s bungalows. Apart from the church and a rather ghastly looking pub where I had hoped to have supper the night before, I found one other building, the old post office and shop, empty since 2004.
Scamblesby Post Office and Shop, closed in 2004. Sad!
Day 4 Scamblesby to Woodhall Spa
With views like this, who wouldn’t want to walk! This is the valley from Scamblesby south over the hill to Bletchford and Fulletby. I met Mike who had stayed at Hemingsby, halfway.
It dawned on me that I was looking at a familiar landscape, so similar to where I had grown up in the Cotswolds in the ‘50s and ‘60s before royalisation and the influx of Brummites down the motorway. This is what it had been like – coombes and hills, church towers peeping above the trees, hidden manor houses sheltering in the folds, isolated farmsteads, rolling farmland, hedges and trees, valleys of cattle and sheep with streams, unspoilt market towns. Contentment by the acre, basking in early autumn sunshine.
At Fulletby we literally walked off the Wolds down a long straight road, south to the fen country and Horncastle in the valley, another important Roman settlement and once home to the largest horse fair in England until 1948.
Bought fruit and carrots at the bustling market, nodded to the memorial to Edward Stanhope, a local MP and checked out Sir Joseph Banks’ town house. He grew up at Revesby Abbey just down the road. We met up with Alfred, Lord Tennyson again, who courted a young Horncastle girl, Emily Selwood, and checked out the imposing church and the Dymoke memorials, relations by marriage to Mike, and Knight Champions of England, from Scrivelsby Court nearby.
And to my great joy, walked out along Horncastle canal, 9 miles, 11 locks, now disused, which links to the Witham River and the Wash. We then joined the disused railway line to head into Woodhall Spa.
Day 5 Woodhall Spa to Lincoln
We had walked in over the golf course the day before, avoiding golfers and their balls as best we could! This is the Home of English Golf and the National Golf Centre, founded in 1905, and one of the world’s finest heathland golf experiences, according to the website.
I’d never heard of Woodhall Spa but what a place! It was like walking onto a film set with no-one there to act. Buildings decked out in Victorian Tudor Revival Style, kings and queens for street names, Jubilee Gardens, disused railway station, pine woods, parades of shops, tea houses, little museums in tin huts and a Kinema in the Woods, Britain’s only rear projection cinema, known as ‘flicks in the sticks’ by the aircrews. It was enchanting.
In 1821, somebody dug a shaft looking for coal. Instead they hit a spring of saline water. Sick cattle drank and were cured. So people followed suit. A bath house and hotel followed and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was the place to visit to take the waters, high in iodine and bromine.
Disused Spa Baths, Kinema in the Woods, Petwood Hotel, Dambusters Memorial
Sadly, the Spa Baths are no longer but, according to the Golf hotel where we were staying and which uses the waters in its own spa, attempts are being made to resurrect the Baths.
Petwood House was built for the daughter of Sir John Blundell Maple of Maple Furniture fame, a crazy creation of Edwardian splendour for entertaining on a grand scale. The Jaguar Club were visiting and celebrating 100 years of the RAF. How appropriate, in the building that housed the Officers’ Mess for the legendary 617 Dambusters Squadron and whose memorial sits in Royal Square Gardens.
One of the only remaining prototypes of the Barnes Wallis famous bouncing bombs
They call it ‘Bomber County’, home to No.1 Group and No.5 Group of Bomber Command in WWII, with 49 airfields, more than any other county in England. We had already passed several. Estimates put the number of servicemen in and around Woodhall Spa at between 4,500 and 5,000. Now little remains of the airfield to the south east.
I was later to visit International Bomber Command Centre, just to the south of Lincoln. This remarkable memorial commemorates 58,000 men and women who died in WWII and 62 nations who served or supported Bomber Command. Native trees planted in the Peace Garden commemorate each Bomber Command station.
The spire, 102 ft high, equal to the wingspan of a Lancaster bomber
Wall of Names commemorating 58,000 men and women who gave their lives in WWII
View across the valley from the International Bomber Command Centre to Lincoln Cathedral; William's castle just to the left of the cathedral in the trees.
The walk into Lincoln was 20 miles across country and then along the River Witham. The towers of Lincoln seemed an awful long way away!! We arrived for Evensong just as they were all pouring out, the Great and the Good of the RAF, adorned with medals and walking sticks. We had half an hour before the cathedral closed.
I went to morning prayers at 7.30 the next day and had a good hour on my own to look around afterwards. What an awe-inspiring place, so so special – the Tournai font in blue-black limestone, the Angel Choir with its 28 carved angels, the tombs of St Hugh, Eleanor of Castile and Katherine Swynford, wife of John of Gaunt, the medieval chalice in the Cathedral Treasury, the Father Willis organ, the Services chapels, Dean’s Eye stainglass window of 1220, the Chapter House with its central column and the Lincoln Imp, to name but a few of the delights.
1 0f 7 complete examples in England, carved at Tournai in Belgium, in the 12th c. and early 13th c.
I had heard the peregrine screaming from my hotel room and I saw him perched high up on the central tower, the tower with its red light that brought the pilots home and from which they took a bearing to reach their airfields.
I had no idea that Lincoln sat on such a steep hill which is the southern edge of the Jurassic limestone escarpment, known as Lincoln Cliff, running 50 miles due north along the Trent valley to the Humber. No wonder William the Conqueror chose this place for his northern castle, begun in 1068, and sent Bishop Remigius to build a cathedral in 1072.
Lincoln is full of surprises – fourth copy of the Domesday Book in the castle, a fascinating collection of local archaeology in the Usher Gallery, beautiful buildings, particularly Minster Yard and the Bishop’s Palace, roman ruins including a roman gateway still in use by traffic in the 21st century, medieval shops and houses, Brayford Pool, a natural lake used by the Romans as a port and now the site of Lincoln University, with its large population of mute swans, and much more.
Steep Hill, aptly named, runs south from the Cathedral. Newport Arch, Roman and still used by traffic!
Day 6 Lincoln to Grantham
I rattled and bumped my way to Grantham through the villages on the local bus, badly in need of some springs, and fetched up at the Angel and Royal, a hostelry on the Great North Road for the last 800 years. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!!
It was supposed to be a non-walking day but I still managed to walk 7 miles up and down that very long High Street in search of tourist information, hotel, church, post office, pizza express!
I met King Richard III again. This time alive and signing the death warrant of his cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1480, in the King’s Room of the Angel and Royal. Also, Sir Isaac Newton who went to school in Grantham.
What is it about this part of the country that gives birth to all these Greats? Is it something in the eastern air that sharpens the brain?
The King's Room at the Angel and Royal, patronised by seven Kings of England and became 'Royal' after the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1866
Statue of Sir Isaac Newton in front of Grantham Town Hall
Days 7 and 8 Grantham to Nottingham along the Grantham Canal
Vale of Belvoir
The canal closed to boating in 1929 but, since the 1970s, the Grantham Canal Restoration Society is slowly restoring it. It is going to be a long haul. Most of the canal, particularly at the western end, is not navigable. In fact, in parts I was able to walk along the bed of the canal through a forest of willows! This makes for a wonderful haven for wild life – no boats, no people, no disturbance.
So guess what I saw? A mother otter and her two cubs. They swam past me, giving me the once over and hurrying on, chittering away to each other. I was so bowled over I completely fumbled my phone and failed to take any meaningful shot. Just a vague blob in amongst the duckweed!!
I met a man soon after with binos round his neck so I asked him what he was looking out for. ‘Anything’ was his reply. I told him about the otters and he was amazed. They are so shy and aren’t normally seen in the day. How lucky was I! I’d seen heron so there was plenty of fish about.
The tow path, I’m glad to say, has been completely restored in 1993 to celebrate the bicentennial of the canal, 1793-1993. Part of it is a SSSI with a grass path instead of stone which makes for fabulous walking. I was amazed how deserted it was. Just the occasional dog walker near villages and the odd group of fisherfolk. As I walked due west into Storm Ali, with the trees dropping their branches all around me, I was very aware how deserted it was.
Restoration of Woolsthorpe Locks 12-15, with Belvoir Castle on the skyline
The canal passes through the Vale of Belvoir, good flat hunting country, with hardly a road to be seen. It took me about 3 hours to walk round Belvoir Castle which was a constant on my left. The canal takes a huge loop north. No doubt some former Duke of Rutland said, ‘You’re not putting that thing through my land.’!
It also passes through Stilton Country and many a field of fat happy cows. I stayed the night at Long Clawson, home to one of the six dairies who are certified to make Stilton Cheese. Four of these dairies are in the Vale of Belvoir. Unfortunately the Crown and Plough, my bed for the night, had none. A great disappointment.
The next day found me standing on Trent Bridge, having battled my way through Storm Ali. THE Trent Bridge, I suddenly realised. And there was the cricket ground, a stone’s throw away. The Nottingham Canal took me to the railway station and my train back to London.
Standing on Trent Bridge with Nottingham Forest Football Stadium, the entrance to the Grantham Canal just beyond and Trent Bridge Cricket Ground just to my right out of shot
Raising funds for Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope
Day 1 The Bridgewater Canal, opened in 1765/6 - Preston Brooks to Manchester
First task of the day – find your canal!
It took me half an hour and, as I looked down on a scene of utter tranquillity, it hardly seemed possible that this had been a busy hub of activity for both passengers and goods, at a major interchange of water and road, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The coach would arrive from London at the Red Lion Hotel, long gone and now a supermarket, and passengers then took the horse-drawn boat into Manchester, taking a further seven hours to reach their destination.
Commercial goods were dealt with at the wharves and warehouses, also long gone.
Contrary to what I thought, there had been two canals before the Bridgewater – the Newry Canal in Northern Ireland, to carry coal, and pre-dating the Bridgewater by 18 years, the Sankey Brook from St Helens to the Mersey, also carrying coal, pre-dating by 4 years.
The start of the Bridgewater Canal. There are no locks on this canal as James Brindley, the engineer, followed the contours.
I walked up to the Preston Brooks Tunnel, the start of the Trent and Mersey Canal which I had walked two years ago and then turned north west to start my journey up the Bridgewater Canal to Manchester.
I soon met a narrow boat for a chat about the difficult passage through the Tunnel. Although only 15 minutes and less than a mile long it is twisty and narrow. Apparently, the Duke of Bridgewater made it like this so that goods had to be transhipped from the wider Mersey boats to smaller boats, with all the accompanying fees for unloading, loading and warehousing plus transit charges. No fool, our Duke!
A horse carries 2 tons on the road but pulls 100 tons on water!
I always forget how friendly people are up north. When I arrived at Runcorn Station on the evening of the May Bank Holiday, there were no taxis. Just one young man in the queue. A taxi eventually arrived and he very kindly said, ‘You go first’. The driver had called by on the off chance and was about to go home. How lucky was that! I hope the young man didn’t have to wait too long for his taxi!
I had a meal deal at the nearby Premier Inn, £55 for bed, full English breakfast and two course dinner with pint of beer. Well, I wasn’t going to miss out. So I had the surreal experience of sitting on my bed, eating salmon teriyaki followed by cheesecake, washed down with a pint of Becks, listening to Nigel Kennedy play Jimmy Hendrix on the telly!
Breakfast next morning was a jolly affair, waited on by local ladies gossiping about this and that and feeding me enormous portions of scrambled eggs on toast.
One of the things I love about walking the canals is all the miscellaneous general knowledge to pick up on the way. Here I was passing Daresbury. I could see the 8 massive cooling towers of the power station, owned by SSE, burning coal and biomass. I was right alongside the world renowned Daresbury International Science and Innovation Campus, responsible for some of the most ground-breaking research being carried out in the world today and home to over 100 high tech companies. And half a mile away in Daresbury church is the ‘Alice window’ designed by Geoffrey Webb and dedicated in 1935, a hundred years after the birth of Lewis Carroll who was born in the parsonage and whose father was the vicar. And this was only the morning of Day 1!!
Later in the day, I passed Dunham Massey Hall, a couple of fields away. Mike Luxmoore had by this time joined me and later we drove out to see the house and garden. We arrived as the gardens were closing but a nice man on the gate allowed us in – a great plantsman’s garden of the north-west apparently and a medieval deer park to boot. We enjoyed it!
Dunham Massey, Grade 1, Georgian, built for families Booth and Grey, housing Grinling Gibbons' fabulous limewood panel of the Cruxifixion
My cousin, Lesley Reynolds, joined us at the Belmore Hotel in Sale for dinner and would walk with me for the next couple of days.
Mike was to leave us here to walk to the Barton Aqueduct on the Leigh branch of the Bridgewater, the first and only swing aqueduct in the world which allows ships on the Manchester Ship Canal to pass under. It was opened in 1894 and is still in regular use. He was lucky enough to see it opening. Google 'BartonAqueduct-inoperation-YouTube' - very impressive.
Day 2 Manchester
I was excited to visit Manchester, walking in on the Bridgewater Canal. How expectations can be dashed! First, we were plagued by lycra-clad bicyclists hell bent on getting to work on time. Then there were depressing views of building sites, railways and roads. Even the Manchester Ship Canal was pretty dull – vast but empty.
Not how I imagined I would look on the famous Manchester Ship Canal!
Man U's Stadium - I never expected that so a bit of a bonus!
I was as underwhelmed by Manchester as I had been bowled over by Liverpool two years before. Manchester does not have the benefit of being a European City of Culture as Liverpool had in 2008. What a difference these awards can make.
I was expecting a 21st century northern powerhouse springing from one of our great Victorian cities. I got a rather subdued one, with not much going on, a surprising lack of traffic and people, with drear stone buildings and dull modern ones. It was midweek and post bank holiday. Not sure if that is an excuse or not!
One area of interest is Castlefield, birthplace of Manchester and site of the Roman fort, Mancunium, sited on a sandstone bluff which is still very much in evidence, at the confluence of rivers Irwell and Medlock. Here the Bridgewater Canal becomes the Rochdale Canal and, sited very close, is Bridgewater Hall, built in the 1990s, home to the Halle Orchestra and named after the Duke of Bridgewater. I'm sad we didn't have time for a concert.
The canal is mostly underused and underground. We found ourselves walking in stygian gloom under road and rail, before popping up in Canalside, the LBGT centre of town, which looked a little jollier. We even lost the canal at one stage so insignificant is it!
Brilliant bit of graffiti to lighten the stygian gloom
Lesley was my guide for the day and, having booked into our Princess Hotel, we set off to explore. I had great hopes for the Town Hall and its high Victorian interiors, all designed by Alfred Waterhouse, but it was dead and deserted, about to undergo a huge restoration.
A high Victorian tour-de-force.
Shame we couldn't get access.
Me and Albert in St Peter's Square, site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819.
Next we tried the Cathedral which looked just like a large town church from the outside. It was more exciting inside with very fine medieval choir stalls and misericords, one of the latter showing an early depiction of backgammon. Also a wooden ceiling ‘held up’ by 14 life-size angels holding medieval musical instruments. The cathedral was bombed in the war and the stain glass is 20th century, colourful and eye catching.
Medieval hanging ditch bridge dating back to 1421, lost and rediscovered in 1880s and now on display in the visitors' centre. It bridged a ditch around the cathedral originally.
Sadly we missed it!
Next was Chetham’s Library, founded in 1653 under the will of Humphrey Chetham, a prosperous Manchester textile merchant, banker and landowner and twice High Sheriff. It is the oldest surviving public library in the English speaking world and still open to readers free of charge! It also has one of the original chain libraries! There had always been schools on the site and in 1969 the Boys’ Grammar School became the now famous Chetham’s Music School. Today, the library is still expanding its collection.
Harry Potter, eat your heart out!
Then it was lunch. We walked into the nearest restaurant, Gino’s, which, from unprepossessing beginnings, turned out to be one of the many new restaurants in the recently restored triangular-shaped Corn Exchange in all its Edwardian glory, opening up on to the Exchange floor and full of action and eating. Best pile of pasta I had had in a long time and nice to see the Manchester folk enjoying themselves.
The hop on and hop off tour took us to see Salford Quays - for real instead of just on the breakfast telly. It’s an impressive acreage of water but I didn’t get much sense of past history and the boom years of industrial Victorian England. Or was it that large plate of crab pasta making me sleepy and inattentive?!! There seemed to be an awful lot of building going on with endless development sites. There really isn’t much beauty to Manchester.
We probably should have gone to the Whitworth gallery but it was a 2 mile journey by bus and I had run out of energy. We were gearing up to see Samuel Beckett’s ‘Happy Days’ in the Royal Exchange Theatre, a seven-sided steel and glass construction in the round, opened in 1976, suspended from the columns holding up the dome of the Exchange. What a brilliant use of such a space.
We sat up in the gods and looked down on a mound of earth with a collapsed body buried to the waist in a hole at the top and a badgers’ sett at the base where another body lay. Well, I thought, this is going to be interesting!!
Over two hours later we were clapping enthusiastically this extraordinary performance by Maxine Peake as Winnie lamenting her lost life and all its unfulfilled dreams while her useless husband grunted from his hole from time to time. I could say it was an appropriate end for my day in Manchester.
We walked passed this sad sight the next morning. Ironically, she was called 'Happy Days'!
Day 3 Walking to Diggle
Today was the turn of the Ashton Canal, branching off the Rochdale Canal and heading north east to Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge before turning north to slowly climb towards the Pennines up the Tamer River valley.
Walking out of Manchester was a whole lot better than walking in. This was somewhere I could live, all nicely landscaped around the canal with jolly people walking dogs, enjoying the sun and looking happy.
Tom Heatherwick's B for Bang sculpture
We passed Sport City, all thanks to the Commonwealth Games of 2002, and the Velodrome at the National Bicycling Centre, the cause of so much our bicycling success. We looked for Tom Heatherwick’s B for Bang sculpture but no sign. Unfortunately its spikes kept falling off so Manchester City Council had it dismantled and now it is beyond repair with bits having been sold off for scrap – how sad is that.
Our mid-morning break saw us join the beginning of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Portland Basin. We were now in big brass band country – Mossley, Uppermill, Dobcross, Delph, Diggle and many more villages in the parish of Saddleworth, fielding their own brass band in fortnightly competitions.
Lesley’s husband, Chas, plays the tuba in the Sale Brass Band. So she regaled me with stories of brass band rivalry competing in all these local villages - villages which were once heavily agricultural and then gave way to local hand-weaving of cotton until the late 18th century when mills sprang up further down the valley better able to cope.
We finally arrived at Gate Inn in Diggle at 5 pm, having had an hour’s stop for a nice lunch at the Roaches Lock, a canalside inn. Not often do the two coincide so we took advantage.
Dobcross village - ex-Saddleworth Bank building on the left!
Saddleworth Viaduct and one happy walker!
We also had a detour into Dobcross, a charming Pennine village atop its hill with its high wide mullioned windows and its ex-Saddleworth Bank and corner shop in The Square. Absolutely charming.
Lesley left me here after a very nice dinner with Chas who came to pick her up. Thank you, my walking companion!
Day 4 Over the Pennines to Huddersfield
At 7.30 in the morning I was looking at the entrance to Standedge Tunnel. For all its claim to be the highest, longest, deepest tunnel in UK in what must be one of the great feats of man-toil in UK history, it looked very ordinary, small and insignificant. In fact, I thought it was just another bridge until I noticed the metal gates closing off the entrance.
Legging it through!
So much for a lift through. There wasn’t so much as a dog’s hair anywhere near the place. All was quiet and empty. The only sign was a blue plaque to Thomas Telford whose skills had averted disaster when the tunnel was found not to be aligned correctly.
What now? I had to go over the top but where was the track to Marsden Moor? Luckily I met a man who had just come down from the Pots and Pans stone and the Obelisk War Memorial on Alderman’s Hill which we had noticed to our right for most of the day before. I told him where to find the canal and he told me where to find Diggle Hotel and hopefully somebody with local knowledge.
The hotel didn’t look promising. Very quiet and shut up. Then the booze truck arrived and, hey presto, folk appeared. The track was just beside the hotel and wound its way slowly upwards passing farms with their high wide mullioned windows and fields full of lazy cattle. I was accompanied by several pairs of curlews and their chicks, peewits and larks, all screaming, ‘go away’!
Reaching the summit with views to the west to Manchester and to the east to Huddersfield, I sat and ate my marmalade sandwich – just me, the moor and the curlews. It was utter bliss and quite breath-taking. It’s moments like these that I wish all my friends and family could be with me.
The weather was benign with no sign of the threatened thunderstorm, although I did have my trusty compass with me in case.
I was soon looking down on Marsden, a bustling happy little town with its canal and railway and tourist trade. I could see the huge mill complexes, one of them in the middle of the town being my great grandfather’s. They looked strangely and worryingly deserted.
Looking down on Marsden - the large block in the middle of the picture is the Crowther and Bruce Mill. There is also another mill to the right of the photo, also derelict.
And so they were. After a long chat to a shopkeeper who had just sold me a jolly linen top all for the price of £23, I got the full story. When I was last here 10 years ago the NHS was about to pump lots of money into ‘our’ mill, with medical centre, associated health clinics, shops, flats and eateries. Local residents objected to the one-way system to access the centre and planning was refused. The NHS just took its business down the valley to Slaithwaite and Marsden lost out.
So Crowther and Bruce Mills stand derelict and forlorn in the middle of this bustling little town. What a tragedy. I had passed so many of these derelict mills on the way out from Manchester and would pass more on my way to Huddersfield.
Crowther and Bruce mill - derelict. I took over 30 photos of derelict mills, west and east side of the Pennines.
These are huge complexes with brick mills 4 to 5 storeys in height and large adjacent areas of low level sheds and warehouses. I only saw three successfully converted into apartments. Many did have the lower areas in use with the main brick buildings standing derelict. It seems such a waste.
I found the eastern entrance to the tunnel and watched a boatload of happy holidaymakers disappear into the tunnel for an hour’s ride.
I spoke later to a boat owner who had been through a couple of days before with a pilot to guide. He said it was pretty scary but exhilarating with the exposed rocks just above their heads dripping water. The tunnel is over 3¼ miles long and takes 1.40 hour to go through. I was quite glad I hadn’t had to make the decision to hitch a lift or not. The record to ‘leg it’ through is 1.25 hour! Two pairs of very strong legs, I guess!
Walking down the Colne Valley via Slaithwaite and linthwaite to Huddersfield was a delight. Such a pretty valley with the Colne river meandering alongside the canal and sheep grazing in the buttercup-filled fields. Ancient hay meadows still survive. The valley was famous for the fine quality woollen cloths it produced.
I was looking forward to Huddersfield, having read my grandmother’s diaries and the various memorabilia such as old newspaper cuttings. Again, my expectations were to be dashed.
It began well. I walked into Huddersfield through the university buildings, massive modern edifices and restored mills put to good use as various departments, all looking prosperous and useful.
Then a startling contrast as I worked through the centre to find my hotel. The streets were dirty, the shops were closed up, the Church which I was hoping to visit for an evensong practice was closed up and deserted, not a friendly sign to be seen. There was every sort of eatery and convenience store of various ethnic extractions – Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, Kurdish – but none that sold anything useful apart from drinks and snacks. Finding a yogurt and some fruit for my breakfast was beyond Huddersfield. I ended up with an apple pastry from a Kurdish store.
The great classical façade of the railway station was there in all its splendour but the adjacent George Hotel, the scene of the meeting which divorced rugby league from rugby union, was closed and shuttered, with rubbish spilling about its entrance porch. What our Harold would have thought as he strutted his way across the square.
such a great statue of Harold Wilson by Ian Walters
,At my hotel, I had a deep reviving bath with my magic crystals, blissfully unaware that I was leaking all over the room below! The Italian restaurant next door gave a 10% discount to hotel guests but, on entering, I realised this wasn’t going to work. The place was heaving with two huge parties of Huddersfield folk.
So I followed the high heels and hairdos to the hotspot of Huddersfield, Revolution Kitchen, where I had a most delicious pizza and a pint of something gorgeous and golden, all for the price of £13, watching all the girls making their own free cocktails behind the bar under the tuition of the barman. This was definitely a girl’s night-out-place. Glitter balls hung from the ceiling and DJs spun funk, soul, chart and indie!!!
I made my own majito under instruction and staggered home to bed, noticing that there was now a guard and roped area outside the front door with the moneyed young of West Yorkshire spilling out of smart cars and tottering in for food and fun! What a town of contrasts.
3 am – aware of voices outside my window. 4 am - looked outside my window. The building opposite which had looked lifeless and empty at 4pm was now lit up and a hive of activity with people spilling onto the pavement chatting and smoking.
4.30 – as the night porter wasn’t going to help me, I crossed the road in my bare feet and asked for the manager. All sorts of bow-tied officials of various ethnic origins gave me the once over, thinking, ‘Here's trouble’.
Finally the manager appeared, a smooth young man rapidly pouring oil on troubled water! One of the girls said, ‘Why did you book a hotel room across the road from a strip club?’ Ah, I thought, so that’s it. I retreated and got a room at the back of the hotel for an hour’s kip before the alarm went off. As I left the hotel at 7 am girls were being shovelled into the back of black cars with loud ‘thanks’ from the men!
Day 5/6 A Long Tramp into Leeds, more river than canal
Peaceful scene on the River Calder but no towpath!
Huddersfield Broad Canal, on the right, joins the Calder River
Huddersfield Broad Canal took me north east to join the Calder and Hebble Navigation and a hard slog, hot and humid, into Wakefield along alternating canal and river, the latter with no proper towpath. In fact the path can wander away from the river which is disconcerting as it is not always clear where it goes. It was also the weekend so the bikes and buggies were out!
It rained for half an hour when I was walking on an overgrown river path so got soaked from the waist down. Regretted lack of waterproof trousers. As that was the only bad weather I had had, I was thankful. Also I seemed to always have a cooling breeze in my face.
Wakefield Cathedral - not what I was expecting!!
My intention was to make evensong at 3.30 at Wakefield Cathedral. I found the cathedral with lots of street music and folk milling around. How jolly, I thought. At the door of the cathedral I was stopped and asked for my wrist band. Strange, I thought. I'd never been asked for a wristband for evensong before. I said that I was only going in for evensong. As people were pressing to get in, he let me through. I was met by a wall of sound and a rock band on a brightly lit stage in front of the altar belting out ferociously loud music with hundreds of people listening and jigging along.
I found a man with a dog collar and said, 'Evensong's off then?' Yes, he nodded, looking very pleased that his church was flavour of the moment! After the initial shock, I thought well, why not. I hung around for a while until I couldn't stand the noise anymore. It was good to see the church so full of people enjoying themselves. Felt almost medieval!
I had booked my hotel for the previous night by mistake and, because of whatever was going on musically in the town, all the hotels were booked out. So I found myself taxiing out to the M1 and the Holiday Inn where West Yorkshire’s version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding was taking place. Screaming flower girls, a fat little bride, no bridegroom to be seen, rollicking guests and general mayhem. I was just thankful for a bed, a bath and a meal, even if the guests did wake me up at all hours of the night roistering down the passages.
Hepworth Wakefield Museum - Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017
7.30 the next morning found me walking across the River Calder to the Hepworth Wakefield Museum which seemed to consist of boring big blocks of grey concrete. Ah, but it’s by David Chipperfield, I hear you say. Yes, well that’s as maybe. I hope the contents were a tad more inspiring but unfortunately I wasn’t going to find out at that hour.
What was charming was the chantry church of St Mary on Wakefield bridge, built between 1342 and 1356, one of four bridge chapels still surviving in England. River on the left, bridge on the right.
I then spotted another enormous mill complex, abandoned as per usual, beyond the museum and by some new apartment blocks overlooking the canal. What a shame that both the museum and the flats couldn’t have made use of this splendid old building. But what would be ‘sexy’ about that?
I now joined the River Aire but had to divert onto roads as the embankment was impassable. So I spent a dirty, dusty, nasty, noisy hour trudging along roads. However, it did take me through Mickletown and its post office, open every day except Christmas day as I was proudly told, where I was able to fill up my water bottle and buy my sarnies for lunch
Met a nice young man from the Canal and River Trust at Woodlesford Lock, out to catch the Sunday trade. I told him about my walk and he was very taken with it. I would have joined there and then but my card had just expired. He also said that since going private, the Trust had done extremely well, raising money and gaining members, much to his surprise. Yes, I thought, you have to work for your money now. Jolly good thing too.
No .1 Lock beside the Armories in Leeds. Hard to believe this was once all derelict!
Leeds was historically a vital cross-pennine link between Liverpool and the North Sea.
Walking into Leeds was a pleasant experience – one of the few towns which seem to have made the most of their water frontage – and I hit No.1 lock by the Armouries at 3.30.
I headed off to the airport for my lift home only to discover that PK had flown for an hour and had had to turn back because of weather. So I sank a pint in Witherspoons at the station, bought a very expensive ticket and boarded the train to London, reflecting on a walk of contrasts from cities and suburbia to open moors and sleepy river valleys, with quiet canals and even quieter wildlife.